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The American Photographer As Historian

An Exhibition Curated by Sally W. Donatello

June 13 - September 21, 2006
An image of William L. Finley with black-throated sparrows.
William Finley with black-throated sparrows, Arizona 1910, from 'William L. Finley, Pioneer Wildlife Photographer,' Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore., 1986, by Worth Mathewson.

The birth of still photography is one of the most significant technological innovations in history. As the medium evolved, its documentary role grew. Its various permutations provided acres of records for multiple uses. This exhibition demonstrates the power of the photographic image and the role of the American photographer as historian. From the mid-1800s to the beginning of the twenty-first century American photographers have been critical recorders of history. Pioneers of photography brought a new kind of portraiture into prominence. As soon as they moved outside their studios, a new kind of historian was born. Many of those early photographs are the only known visual documentation of an event, a person, a place, or an artifact.

As witness to history, photographers endure glorious and unforeseen obstacles to capture a moment that would otherwise be lost. The preservation of a small or monumental instance is the backbone of this visual media.

Today's digital processes assure that photography's documentation can reach vast audiences for current and future generations. People unfamiliar with faces of great world leaders or everyday people from remote communities or the landscape of the Old West can learn about them through still photography.

Photography is a silent language that reveals itself through visual storytelling. Its power is insurmountable. The exhibition is organized in four categories: People and places, nature and human nature, photojournalism, and material culture.

Bibliography

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